The Culture Explorers: case studies from consultant and organisational psychologist Milda Autukaite

The Culture Explorers: case studies from consultant and organisational psychologist Milda Autukaite

Our consultants at TIHR work with organisational culture to shift entrenched habits and set the scene for success

Our consultants at TIHR bring a wealth of knowledge about working with organisational culture. These four case studies are drawn from real life examples by Principal Consultant Milda Autukaite.

Case study 1: Speaking up at Supertrim

Business targets have been lagging for a big retail company. 

We’ll call them Supertrim in today’s Culture Explorer case study. For a couple of years Supertrim’s management focused on sales. They implemented ambitious individual targets for sales people, rigid follow up and monitoring routines and efficiency measurement systems.

Now sales figures are up, but all is not well. Other phenomena have emerged. Employees’ opinion survey results are very good but Supertrim’s HR team are getting more and more cases related to conflict. Relationships with teams and between employees and managers are increasingly difficult. Labour relations cases are higher than they have ever been. Meanwhile top managers are noticing that middle managers have become passive: they tend to accept everything without raising questions or discussing.

What is happening? Our Culture Explorer team finds that the organisation has learned to complete orders without voicing doubts. The tension around business ambition has seeped into people’s relationships and they have become fragmented. Nobody has the time or energy to invest in dialogue, relationship and teaming. We hear comments like: ‘When we meet, we only ever talk sales figures’.

It is time for Supertrim’s people to learn to speak up again, because relationship building is a key part of business success. The Culture Explorers ask questions like: What is it like to be working there? What helps people to perform well and what hinders their performance?

Case study 2: Fragmentation at Festival

Shane Taremi via Flickr

This is the second of four case studies drawn from real life examples by Milda Autukaite

A medium-sized events management business has been buffeted by structural changes and COVID lockdowns. Will the company (which we will call Festival) even survive? Customer behaviour changed and after everything opened up, Festival staff had to respond to a constant barrage of unexpected circumstances which directly affected business. 

The Culture Explorer team are called in because top management and HR are concerned about middle managers avoiding decisions and their staff surveys reveal low levels of employee engagement.

We begin to explore the culture and leadership at Festival and we find good, supportive relations between middle level managers, which had helped them to survive the crises and stay together. But when we peel back the layers, we find that this very same strength – the desire to stay in good, friendly relationships – is blocking difficult decisions. Employees and especially middle managers are not addressing the key challenges and they are not voicing the conflicts. Everyone is very nice to each other at Festival and interpersonal conflict is perceived as a threat. It has become taboo.

We help Festival to learn that difficult issues and tough decisions can happen while social relationships are maintained. We set out the shift that is needed: the task of leadership is to lead while relating with colleagues. Together with our partners at Festival, we see that being too cautious about relationships means abandoning the task of leadership.

Case study 3: Merged but not together

John Robert Marasigan via Unsplash

This is the third of four case studies drawn from real life examples by Milda Autukaite

Two middle size organisations in complementary niches undergo a merger. Tension arises in almost every meeting where representatives from different groups were present. However much the newly appointed management team say, “we are one now”, people find it difficult to agree and make decisions. Everyone tries to defend their previous way of working, and it is almost impossible to collaborate.

This might feel intractable but the Culture Explorers work with teams to look at what has been lost with the merger. Next, we help employees to focus on where everyone is coming from and what the new organisation might look like. We talk about the new ways of working and think together about our reactions to change. We can all see that there are two competing cultures. After both are voiced, accepted and let go, we find a new common stream in which everyone can take part. 

Case study 4: Change at Bayland

This is the fourth of four case studies drawn from real life examples by Milda Autukaite

Digitalization arrives with a bang, landing right at the front and centre of the Board’s business plan for a large manufacturing company that we will call Bayland. This will be completely new territory. It will require big changes to the mindset of managers and employees. to implement the plan, Bayland will need to see big competence shifts and process changes, and major investment into new production lines.

The Culture Explorers take a good look at the updated business plan but we find that no-one else has. It has been abandoned before it has even started. Neither top management nor middle managers understand the plan or how it should start moving. No-one is voicing any urgency about digitalisation. We realise that the new strategic direction was introduced not because the business faces challenges now but as a long-term vision. The Bayland Board alone foresee the need for digitalisation. Others see the potential changes as a threat to the current business model. There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. We understand that collectively, managers are fleeing from the task of implementation. They are ignoring the future. 

We work with Bayland’s people to rethink and accept reality: the digital future is a reality. We create space to talk about the new strategic direction, to name possibilities and risks, to voice feelings. We see that this helps to contain the anxieties of managers and releases energy to face the change and work with it.

Please get in touch with Milda if you'd like to work with us: Contact Milda

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